Chapter Ten: Grandpa Gordon Gets Better, Buys a Car, Learns How to Drive and much more

This chapter finds our Hero and his father driving home from his follow-up visit at the VA hospital. Since they were both in agreement about buying a car the next logical step was for them to actually look for one to buy. Since Minneapolis was the largest city in Minnesota, it was the perfect place for them to do this. So, Grandpa Gordon asked his father if they could drive by a used car lot before they drove home. He smiled and said, “Sure, son.” When they pulled up to the car dealer, the first car that caught his eye was a 1950 black Buick Roadmaster Convertible. Boy, was she a beauty! He looked at his father and he grinned right back at him. Just like that they had found their car. Somehow they were both on the same page because they had both brought money with them. The ticket price for the used 1950 convertible was $1,800.00, this would mean they each had to fork over $900.00. As the sales tax did not start until 1967, all they had to do was pay for the title and closing costs which amounted to a $100.00 more. It just turns out that between the two of them they had $2,050.00 in cash so, they had plenty of money.

Papa Thomas being a bit of a tightwad decided to try and bargain with the salesman.  He offered him the $1800.00 for the car but it had to include all the extra expenses and as Papa Thomas expected the salesman went for it. They signed the paperwork and the next thing you knew they were the proud owners of a brand-new-used Buick convertible. Now Grandpa Gordon had to learn how to drive the damn thing. One thing in his favor and that it had an automatic transmission and not a standard one like his father’s pick-up truck had. This alone would make learning to drive and passing the driver’s test a whole lot easier.

Now that Grandpa Gordon had a plan and timeframe to work within.  He simply had no time to be sick, as if he could heal himself by willpower alone. He had two weeks to get better, learn how to drive and get his license….piece of cake. He knew that to get healthy he had to eat right and get plenty of sleep. He would also need plenty of sunlight and fresh air. His mother was a great cook, check. He was on leave, check. It was summer, check. He was living on a farm, check. He also had his mother to change his dressing and he had his medicine to take, he had this already locked. Week one was already taken care of, if it were only that easy. Damn he was growing impatient already. Everything he always wanted was right before his eyes and he was now stuck convalescing.

Even with all of his griping, the week went by pretty quickly. He finally finished taking his antibiotics and his wound was open to air. It was almost healed over with just a small scab covering the ever shrinking wound. It would probably leave a small scar on his leg, but who cares it was just a leg. He no longer used the cane when he walked and for all intents and purposes he was back to his normal self. He knew one thing, he would never enter a volcano again active or otherwise. Haha!

Finally, he was ready to learn how to drive. His father insisted that he learn to drive with the pick-up truck first, just in case he hit something when he first started driving.  He didn’t want their car to get messed up. Grandpa Gordon wasn’t happy about it, but he could see his father’s point so he agreed. His father said that once you learned how to drive a stick you could pretty much drive anything. For his first few times behind the wheel, he drove around the farm. There were several dirt paths that connected his fields. There was no chance of meeting any other vehicles there so the stress level was negligible. He frankly was surprised at how well he did. His father actually was a good teacher and was very patient with him, now he knew who he took after for his instructing skills.

By the third day, he was ready to tackle more advanced skills. Frankly, it had been a piece of cake so far, that was until his father had him park the truck on a hill. Then he instructed him to disengage the clutch and drive forward. The goal was for the truck not to roll backwards during the process. This drill continued for quite some time before he started getting the hang of it. The first time he tried, he rolled back a few feet before he was able to engage the clutch. The second time was better and by the third time, he had it down pat. Now all that remained was the most heinous skill of them all and that was parallel parking. It caused the strongest of individuals to go weak in the knees and to start blubbering. More people have failed this portion of the test than any other parts bar none. So Grandpa Gordon despite his military career still had heart palpitations thinking of this.

His father let up on him and allowed him to practice with the Buick. He said having to shift besides learning this new skill would be too much. Besides he was going to take his driver’s test with the car anyway. So his father set up bales of hay to represent the curb and two cars that he would have to park in between.  Well, let me tell you something… parallel parking is probably the most difficult skill to learn for a new driver and probably the least useful one at that. This writer in 42 years of driving has never had to actually parallel park once, and I have lived in Las Vegas for over 20 years. So I feel Grandpa Gordon’s pain.

He hit those bales so many times that his father actually had to replace a few of them with new ones.  Finally after three days, he was able to parallel park without hitting any of them. His father patted him on the back and said he was now ready to take the the driving test. During this time he was also studying the driver’s manual for Minnesota to learn all the rules of the road and to prepare for the written test. So needless to say, he had been quite busy this last week.

Good old Sauk Centre was not big enough to have a Driver’s License Bureau, so Papa Thomas said that he would take Grandpa Gordon to St. Cloud the next morning for his tests. Since he had not actually driven on any  roads while he was practicing, he had been able to forgo getting a learner’s permit. Even though this had simplified the process somewhat, it now put extra stress on him since he had no previous experience of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). So he was going in cold and he would just have to muddle through as best as he could and hope for the best as he took both the written test then take the driving portion afterwards. He passed both tests without any major mishaps, I am sure he got dinged for a couple of mistakes in the driving test, but they were not serious enough to fail him.

The day was finally over and he had passed both of the tests and he was legal and his father no longer needed to chauffeur him around. So, to celebrate and to give his a father a much deserved brake from all the driving he had been doing, he drove him back home. After he grabbed a light snack, he hopped back in the Buick and drove to the VA hospital in Minneapolis to surprise Clara. He was finally ready to start courting her in earnest.

When he entered the ER waiting room, Clara was chatting with the charge nurse. Upon entering he cleared his throat timidly which caused Clara to look up. When she saw him she broke out into breathtaking smile that just melted his heart all over again. He had changed into his dress uniform before he had left his parent’s farmhouse, so he looked quite dashing. Clara was frankly taken aback, she had not expected him all dressed up like that and frankly, it was her turn to be a little breathless. She quickly asked her charge nurse if she could leave early from work. Annabelle said there would be no problem with her leaving a little early since it was slow that day.

After receiving that affirmation, she walked up to Grandpa Gordon kissed him lightly on the cheek and took his hand and proceeded to drag him out of the ER waiting room into the parking lot. Once they had got out of the building and they were out of view of the wagging tongues of the ER staff, she gave him a quick kiss on the lips. Grandpa Gordon thought he was going to die because his heart was beating so fast. He had never been happier in his life.

After he regained control of his faculties, he told Clara that he had a surprise to show her. So it was his turn to drag her by the hand. When she saw the black Buick convertible she squealed in delight. She said it was the most beautiful car she had ever seen. It was then that she understood why he had needed those two weeks, he had been a very busy boy indeed. He proceeded to explain that he had been embarrassed about not having a driver’s license. She said that he was silly for feeling that way but she understood. He then asked her if she wanted to go out and get a bite to eat and she readily agreed. So he took her to the Galaxy Drive-In Restaurant where they had the best hamburgers they had ever tasted. Well, maybe it was the company that made them taste better?

They had a great time and the evening just flew by and before they knew it was time for her to head back to the dorm. Her headmistress had a strict 10PM curfew for all of her female boarders. Even without the curfew, she had to turn in early because of her clinicals that she had to go to in the morning. He gave her a long and sensuous kiss before saying goodbye. Boy, was he really falling hard for this girl. After he dropped her off, he headed back home. He knew that he wanted to spend more time with Clara but that four hour drive was going to be a killer. So he needed to run his idea of staying in Minneapolis by his father in the morning.

When he got back home his parents were both sound asleep, so he followed suit and went upstairs to his old room and crashed on a cot that he had been sleeping on. When he came back to visit they had set it up for him in his old room. It was not as comfortable as his childhood bed but that was water under the bridge as it was long gone. The room was now his mother’s sewing room. Oh well, he had nobody to blame but himself. They only agreed to change out his room when he said he would not be coming back to stay for any length of time. He, however, was so tired after his long day that it did not matter what he slept on. As soon as he put his head down on the cot, he immediately fell into a deep sleep.

In the morning, he went down to eat breakfast with his parents. His mother as usual was bustling around and soon had whipped up a breakfast fit for a king which included eggs, bacon, sausage links, toast, oatmeal and pancakes with real maple syrup. Boy, oh boy, had he missed her breakfasts.  She usually had a good breakfast but this one seemed to be over the top. It was as if she sensed that he was going to break some bad news to them. After they finished their hearty repast and he had helped his mother to clean all the dishes he asked them to sit down so that he have a could talk with them.

His mother and father both looked at each other and then they quietly sat down. He immediately jumped in by telling them that Clara and he were getting pretty serious and he wanted to spend more time with her before he had to go back to Las Vegas. He also said that four hours of driving each day to see her was going to wear not only him but their car out as well. So he said that he thought it would be better if he found a boarding house to stay at in Minneapolis for the rest of his leave so that he could be closer to her. When his leave was almost over he would bring back the car so that they would be able to use it as much as they wanted while he was back at his base.

Of course, they were overjoyed that he had finally had someone in his life, but they were sad about their visit being cut short. They both said they understood his desire to be as close as possible to her. So they gave him their blessing. His mother said that she had one stipulation and that was she had to meet Clara before he left for Las Vegas. Papa Gordon, of course, agreed to that. They hugged and kissed and he packed up his stuff in his two rucksacks and left for Minneapolis and the hopes for a wonderful new life.

When he got back to Minneapolis he started driving down the part of town known for its boarding houses. First Street, 2nd Street and 5th Street were popular streets for them. He soon found a likely one on 2nd Street. This one served one meal a day which was included in the weekly price of $8.00. He thought that this was a fair price so he paid in advance for the rest of his planned stay there. This way he would not have to worry about his lodging anymore. Besides this boarding house had a vacant lot next door that he could use to park his car. As a matter of fact, he would be able to see his car out of his room’s window when he was there. So he felt pretty comfortable about parking it there. Besides the boarding house manager said that it was OK to park in the lot. He also said that not many of his boarders had cars, but occasionally a few did and they never had any problem.

After he had made all of his arrangements, he discovered that it was still too early to go and pick up Clara, so he drove around town to explore and get his bearings. Even though he had previously spent some time in Minneapolis, it had been in a limited fashion and it was only to see his friends’ houses in the outskirts of the city.

Other than that he had only been to a few places in Minneapolis: the Reserve Base, the VA hospital, the train depot  and a used car lot, so he hardly considered himself knowledgeable about the city. By doing some reconnaissance, he could find out all the likely restaurants, any movie houses and other points of interest that he could take Clara. While he had a pretty substantial nest egg put aside, he did not want to be frivolous either. When he finally did retire from the Air Force he wanted to make sure that there was enough money left to buy and pay cash for a house. He knew that he would not be able to afford a mortgage payment on his military pension. He also knew that Clara would be working as a nurse, but he was not sure how long she would want to do this and if she would have a pension when she retired from working, so he did not want to include her income in the budget. Besides, it was her money and she might have plans for it as well.

As he was thinking about his finances, he just realized what he had done. He had acted as if their relation was a foregone conclusion. He really needed to stop doing that. He knew that there was a good likelihood of this happening, but he also knew that he could screw things up or she could change her mind once she was a nurse. She was pretty young right now, and maybe she wanted to enjoy being free for a while before she settled down. He started having doubts the more he analyzed his situation.  Then he shook his head and said enough, no more doubts, he would just take one day at a time. He would not put any pressure on Clara and they would let things just transpire on their own, though he knew that he would do a little nudging along the way to help things along. He definitely knew that he did not want to lose her and besides he was not getting any younger, he was a middle aged man of 33 years. He was no spring chicken any more, he also knew that he was far from being over the hill but he needed to start thinking about his future.

So he stopped thinking and started paying more attention to his surroundings. He had brought a notepad along so he could write down places that he found that he thought Clara would like to visit or restaurants that they could eat at. Once he became more familiar with the city he would no longer need this list but at least for now it was a good starting point. He also realized that he was getting a little hungry as he had totally forgotten about lunch. Since it was getting a little late he decided to just eat something light, so he pulled over to a small diner to get a club sandwich, a dill pickle and a bottle of coke. This would tide him over till he took Clara out later for dinner. After he finished eating his lunch, he continued on with his exploration of Minneapolis. Before he knew it the time had flown by and he had a full page of likely places to visit with his “sweety pie“.

Since he had taken his driving test on Tuesday which meant that today was only Wednesday and he still had two more days before he would have Clara all to himself. Boy, he could not wait. He also knew that he did not want to smother her, seeing how they had just started getting serious about each other so he had to take it slow. Though he had to add that she was the one who had made all the first moves. She definitely had a mind of her own, and he loved that she had confidence and was willing to take some risks. He knew that if he could ever get a ring on her finger, their life together would be truly amazing. There he went again, he was jumping too far ahead… “just relax, Gordon, just relax.” He did not know what was happening to him, he had flown close to 200 combat missions in two wars, risked his life countless times and this young slip of a girl had turned him into a jelly fish. 

As he was driving around town he noticed that it was starting to get dark, so he rolled up his shirt sleeve some so he could see his wrist watch, and damn it was time to pick his Clara up. She would be waiting for him and she was probably wondering what was keeping him. Oh God, he was doing it all over again…he had worked himself up into a lather. He told himself to just take a deep breath and relax. He knew he was becoming a mess when he started referring to himself in the third person, but it was working, so he turned down the next street and started wending his way to the VA Hospital to pick her up.

Of course, she was waiting for him but thankfully it couldn’t have been for more than a couple of minutes. When she saw him pull up, she jumped up with that lovely smile of hers and ran over and gave him a kiss on the cheek and before he could get out to open the door for her she was already in the passenger seat buckling up her seatbelt. And just like that they were on their second real date. They found a nice diner to eat at and went to a theater afterwards to see the most recent Jimmy Stewart movie, the suspense thriller “Rear Window.” In one of their discussions while he was in the hospital she had mentioned that she thought Jimmy Stewart was a great actor, so this was a perfect way to finish out their date.

After the movie was over, he drove her back to her dorm and before she got out she gave him a great big kiss and said that she had a wonderful night . But he could tell by her face that there was a “but” coming. She told him that she had a big test on Friday morning so she would have to study tomorrow evening. As a matter of fact, she was only going to volunteer for a few hours that day so that she would have more time to study. It was her midterm exam so she could not afford to do poorly on it. He tried to not show his disappointment but he said that he understood how important it was for her to do well on the test. She also said that she would make it up to him because they had the whole weekend to spend together. He said he could hardly wait. So they kissed one more time before she hopped out of the car. She was still too fast for him to open the door for her. She was just so full of youthful energy. She gave him one more lovely smile as she went through the door into her dorm building.

After he dropped her off and went back to the boarding house he sat down on his bed thinking about what he would do all Thursday and half of Friday.  Frankly the thought of not seeing her for over 36 hours was quite depressing.  This feeling started him thinking about what he would do when he went back to Las Vegas. He would not be able to see her for 11 months. That made him even more depressed.  He decided that it was better to sleep on it and maybe in the morning he would come up with an idea.

The next morning he woke up after a fitful night of sleep and he still felt depressed. The sleep that he got had not helped any, because he was still no closer to finding an answer. So he went for a walk and to see where he could get a decent breakfast.  The fresh air made him feel a little better and after walking several city blocks he came across a small diner that served breakfast. He mused since the diner was crowded they must have good food, so he went in. After a short wait, a table became available and the hostess seated him and handed him a menu. He was quite hungry so, of course, everything looked good. Finally he decided on a skillet meal with three scrambled eggs and bacon, green bell peppers, cheddar cheese, potatoes, a side order of toast and a cup of black coffee.

Despite being busy, his food was delivered within ten minutes of his ordering it. When the food was delivered it looked quite tasty. He quickly dove in and dispatched the meal in short order. It turns out that not only did the food look good it tasted good as well, and even better the price was very reasonable. He decided that at least for a while anyways he had a place to get his breakfast. After he finished eating he felt a little better. He paid his bill and walked back to his boarding house. On the way there he came up with the idea of driving out to the countryside for the day and maybe staying at a cabin on Mille Lacs Lake. So that is what he did. He drove to the lake and stayed overnight at Eddy’s Lake Mille Lac’s Resort.  He had a great time walking around the lake and he even rented a canoe and paddled around the lake some. To save money he had purchased some bread and cold cuts and potato salad for his lunch.

When he woke up the next day he was feeling  refreshed and he was thinking more positively. He finally knew what he had to do, and that was to transfer to a base closer to Minneapolis. This way he could see Clara and visit his parents and siblings more. He felt that he was missing out on so much by his being so far away from them.

So when he got back to his base he decided he would discuss with his Commanding Officer what his options were. He was ever hopeful that something could be done about his predicament. After he checked out of his cabin he went on a drive to see some of the countryside and to find a place to grab breakfast.  Finally after driving a while he entered the town of Onamia and he came across a likely cafe that served breakfasts and lunches, so he decided to try it out. It turns out that he made a poor decision, the breakfast he ordered was not only tasteless it was quite expensive. So he vowed never to stop there again. With that sour taste in his mouth he decided to start driving back to his home base. Since he was in no rush to get back he took a different and somewhat longer route.

He decided to drive up to Aitkin and then Brainerd and then follow the Mississippi River down to Little Falls through St Cloud and Brooklyn Heights  and back home. On the way back he wanted to do something he had never done before and that was to soak his feet in the Mississippi River.  The drive along the mighty Mississippi was quite scenic. Other than that the ride was nothing special. He started realizing that he just was not enjoying the scenery because his Clara was not there to enjoy it with him. When he did soak his feet he was surprised on how muddy the bottom was. It actually felt kind of gross if you thought about it. Well, at least he had did it, and it is something he did not want to repeat.

He finally got back to his boarding house.  He had just enough time to change and freshen up before he went to pick Clara up at her school. When he picked her up you could tell that she had good news to tell him. She had aced her test. Of course, he never doubted what the outcome would be. So he took her back to her dorm so she could change into some nicer clothes because he wanted to take her to a nice restaurant to celebrate.  I will not regale the reader with all the details but suffice it to say, they had a great time.

Over the course of the next three months they spent as much time together as possible. They went to parks where thay had picnics and went swimming. He took her to local fairs and plays. Sometimes they just went for rides. Finally as time drew near it became time to take Clara to see his mother. So he picked her up early on his last Saturday in Minneapolis and drove her to their family farm in Sauk Centre. The drive there was very quiet, usually Clara is quite talkative, but this time she barely said a word. You could sense that she was very nervous.  Grandpa Gordon did his best to put her at ease but she was having none of his ministrations. Finally they arrived at the farm and both his mother and father were waiting for them on the front porch.

Both his parents were wearing their best Sunday clothes. You could tell that they were doing their best to make a good impression on Clara. This time Clara waited for him to open the door for her. He then took her hand and escorted her to the front porch and made formal introductions, even though his father had already met Clara. After she hugged both parents they went into the living room to get aquainted while the finishing touches were being made to their dinner by his two older sisters Julie and Frances. They had volunteered to cook the meal for their mother so that she could concentrate on looking her best. They helped with putting her makeup on and even painted her nails which was something she had never done before. 

You can tell that the whole family wanted this event to be special. After the four of them finished eating dinner the rest of the family would show up to come and meet Clara.  All I can say is poor Clara. But to give her credit she was a real trooper. Not only did Mom love her, the rest of the family did as well. She sure was something else. She even played with her future nieces and nephews. Grandpa Gordon couldn’t have been prouder of her if he tried. The visit was a complete success. 

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and it was time for Papa Thomas to take Clara and Grandpa Gordon to Minneapolis.  Clara and Grandpa Gordon sat in the back seat where they could cuddle as Papa Thomas did his best chauffeur immitation, the ham was even wearing a baseball cap. These arrangements were necessary so that they could take the Buick back to the farm. The next day, Grandpa Gordon would then take a taxi to the Reserve Base so he could fly back to Las Vegas. He would pay a little extra so that he could stop by Clara’s dorm and say goodbye.

All these arrangements were made this way so that he could report back to duty on Monday morning. After all was said and done,  these four months had been quite special for Grandpa Gordon. He not only learned how to drive, he bought a car with his father and he had met the love of his life.